Penetanguishene pilot project possible for ATVs

Penetanguishene council wasn’t content to let a report on ATV use in the town get bogged down in the mud.

At a recent committee of the whole meeting, discussion around a proposed bylaw permitting use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and off-road vehicles (ORV) on municipal roadways was almost put in park, but found new acceleration when council members gave it a push instead.

Municipalities in the region have their own decisions on granting permission for ATV and ORV use, with some allowing it and others not. The staff report laid out considerations for council to make a decision either way and the recommendation was to leave it at that unless otherwise directed.

Mayor Doug Rawson shared his thoughts that “a deeper dive” would be needed to look at the feasibility from an economic perspective.

“What I want to do is consult the public and find out what this looks like,” said Rawson.

“There are people who have come to this community who have recreational vehicles, they want to get onto the trail system; they can’t. And they’re loading them onto trailers, they’re going to other municipalities to use their recreational vehicles. That’s an economic opportunity for the community.”

Rawson added that while the report provided various detrimental effects for allowing the vehicles, in his eyes recreational vehicles held little difference whether for winter or summer use.

“I don’t know what side of this I’m going to support,” he added. “But I don’t support us saying: ‘we received it for information, and let’s not do anything’.”

Other councillors pitched in with support for exploring the matter, given that snowmobiles used municipal roads in winter but ATVs and ORVs were not permitted.

Coun. Bonita Desroches noted that one main difference was that local snowmobile groups were associated with the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs as an active organization for its users, while no such organization for ATVs like the Ontario Federation of ATV Clubs had come forward in a similar manner.

As the topic of the report was discussed within the planning and development services department, a pilot project in neighbouring Tiny Township caught the eye of several like Coun. Doug Leroux.

“In the beginning when we first looked at this at section, I was forward in saying no, absolutely not”, said Leroux.

“The one thing I did pick up from it that could make some kind of sense is that the Township of Tiny is going through what they call a pilot project opportunity… this is something that we could consider – a pilot project – but I would want to be more specific as where they would be allowed.”

Coun. George Vadeboncoeur further reinforced the pilot project suggestion.

“I remember in my previous life working in the town of Wasaga Beach when this issue came forward,” said Vadeboncoeur, “Wasaga Beach was one of the municipalities that’s listed that permitted it back in 2019. There were a lot of concerns that were raised back then about what the impact might be, et cetera, but it was the ATV club that came forward and recommended this.

“We won’t know what the impacts are until we try it,” he added.

The report was referred back to staff for considerations on developing a pilot project.

ATV fatalities were reported at an all-time high in Ontario in 2020 by the OPP, with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit cautioning ATV riders in 2022 to operate vehicles safe and responsibly due to increased ATV-related emergency department visits at roughly 80 per cent higher in the region than the rest of the province.

The planning and development services report for permitting ATV use on municipal roadways can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.

Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.

Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,